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David Perry
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Wheelin’ Jazz player David Perry remembered for impressive shooting skills and never quit attitude

Wheelin' Jazz player David Perry on the left, next to big fan and former Jazz Coach Frank Layden. Photo courtesy of Just Don’t Quit Foundation

The funeral for Utah Wheelin’ Jazz player David Perry on Saturday and mourners came to celebrate the young man’s life.  One of his close friends, filmmaker and writer Randall Wade, remembers Perry as a gifted ballplayer who just wouldn’t quit, saying Perry’s only limits were physical ones. 

“David Perry is a flat-out baller and he’s a three-point specialist,” recalls Wade.  “He has a really consistent stroke both from inside and from outside.”

Perry grew up near Ogden and went to Northridge High School.  In addition to being a player on the Utah Jazz wheelchair team, he played for the Weber State Wildcats and for some other teams in the Midwest as well.

Wade said Perry’s connection with the Utah Jazz began at the young age of 17, when a couple of Wheelin’ Jazz players saw him play. They invited him to come out to practice and play with them, beginning a years-long association with the organization.

The legacy of David Perry 

Perry joined the wheelchair team in 2004. It was then when Randall met the then 17-year-old David and they became lifelong friends. Wade said Perry developed some pretty impressive basketball skills, despite never really having gone to a lot of basketball camps.

“He never went to a lot of camps, but when he did go to a camp back east, he’d still be outside of the group because they would all be talking about camps they’d been to, so he still felt out of place because he had no stories to tell,” said Wade. 

“So I made it a goal of mine to give him stories to tell in any social setting whether it’s on the basketball court or off, while introducing him to different people throughout the years related to the sport of basketball,” Wade explained.

Perry’s skills did not go unnoticed by former Jazz coach Frank Layden, who was impressed with David’s good shooting skills, his overall style and arch.  Layden was so jazzed, he compared Perry to former Jazz great Jeff Hornacek. Coach Layden also noted Perry’s never quit attitude, saying his attitude would help him during ‘crunch time.’

“He’s not just sitting on the couch somewhere, he’s working on his free throws,” Layden once noted. 

“It was really interesting to see Frank going into coaching mode and David was really receptive to it.  Frank had really nice things to say to David and you could just tell there was a special bond between them both,” recalled Wade.

Perry’s road on the court  

There was perhaps no bigger fan of Perry’s than his own father.  Wade remembers a moving father-son moment that took place a few years back at basketball practice.

“They call ‘us people’ who can walk ‘able bodies’ so anybody who could walk was just walking around at that particular practice, but his dad who is able-bodied himself, was actually in a chair practicing and playing with him too,” said Wade.

“So that really touched me to have his father in a chair alongside him, making a special father-son connection,” shared Wade.

Being in a chair has its own challenges and relies on upper body strength. Wade accounts that when David was young and growing up, they wouldn’t let him in pick-up games because he couldn’t shoot the ball very well.

“That’s why John Stockton was a hero to David. He always had the pass first, shoot second mentality so David could stay on the court by looking to get the ball to other people,” said Wade.

David was born with the birth defect Spina Bifida, which doesn’t allow the spine and spinal cord to line up properly.  At birth, he was only expected to live six months.  He passed away just shy of what would have been his 34th birthday in September.

His number with the Wheelin’ Jazz was Number One, same as the number retired by the Utah Jazz in honor of his friend and mentor, former coach Frank Layden.